Beginning a new business is always daunting, but it is also exciting, motivating and challenging. The right spirit, vision and determination to learn and to strive without giving up, can see you creating an enterprise that not only rewards you, but is also something to be justly proud of. Some entrepreneurs who have learned the game, along with some sobering startup experiences, impart their stories.
Allegro Dinkwanyane – Orgella Media
Orgella Media specialises in brand management, social media marketing, and public relations campaigns. Representing celebrities in the entertainment and fashion industries, as well as corporate clients, Allegro Dinkwanyane has built her business to become one of the biggest names in media and PR. She began her company when she was just 21 years-old. It’s a plan, you might say, that came together after hard work, determined focus, and building her brand one step at a time.
After obtaining a degree in Journalism from the University of Johannesburg – and with no plans to find herself working for someone else – she began a blog telling stories of the rich and famous. From there she developed such a reputation for telling sparkling stories, that it wasn’t long before she found herself representing such luminaries as singer and songwriter Donald Moatshe, TV presenter Siya Mdlalose, and fashion designer Paledi Segapo. She has also gained some high-profile clients in the form of Avon South Africa, Africa Fashion Week Nigeria, and the Johannesburg-based Poppy’s Restaurant. Moving and a-shaking, the company has also developed a charity and a property division.
Dubbed the ‘poster child’ of social media, she has recently made the Forbes Under 30 list.
Allegro says that success is something to be celebrated but nothing that should make one complacent. Always moving ahead and focused on the future, she has also been offered such opportunities as an entertainment reporter for Trace TV, as well as one of the biggest radio talk stations in the country, Talk 702. The philosophy: clearly to have a plan and follow it faithfully.
Rob Stokes – Quirk
For Rob, the success of Quirk as a marketing company was all about positioning. And the biggest lesson was perhaps the hardest lesson for any entrepreneur – learning that you can’t be everything to all people. What is key is keeping the end goal in sight, while ensuring your company finds a unique niche in the market where you can outmanoeuvre your competitors.
But real gold was mined when they began developing their business strategy by engaging the staff on their ideas, motivations and goals. They set up a series of workshops with staff, asking them to articulate through a set of standard processes on the following: what makes Quirk different; what makes us better; what makes you get up and want to come to work in the morning with a smile and motivation to seize the day.
Rob feels this is a critical strategy that all businesses should re-evaluate every couple of years because things change. They found that different groups of people were saying the same things. And from this, the business was able to draw up a core set of values that essentially gave them the key to what made them different. These core values were then matched against the needs of the market and they found, to their gratification, that it was a great match! They had found their unique position in the market – and that would make all the difference to their success. Having a bold, innovative approach identified them in the market, gave them the competitive edge that all small businesses should seek. The philosophy: own a niche, focus on that, and avoid trying to be everything to everyone.
Shannon McLaughlin – Ubuntu Baba Baby Carriers
Shannon’s big lesson was to get her pricing right, before she built grand ambitions into her business. Getting advice from a hard-nosed businessman was annoying but certainly well worth the chat. Shannon remembers that he asked her if she was wanting to run a business or a hobby? Or worse, did she rather want to start an NPO? This was a harsh assessment of what Shannon thought was a great philanthropic idea. But she learned that if you can’t write your business concept and plan succinctly, and show how you plan to make a profit, then you don’t have a business. He made it clear that success had to come before she would be able to follow her dream of giving back to the world.
In the end, it was serious calculations on pricings and profit that turned Shannon’s ideas around, and she decided to launch her unique product with a worthwhile price. Once she realised her fear of lower prices of established competition was holding her back, and once she understood her product was the kind of superior standard and quality that people would be prepared to pay for, she had the confidence to take her business forward. The philosophy: don’t run before you can walk, and believe in your product.
Jason Stewart – HaveYouHeard
While HaveYouHeard was an agency that needed to be heard right from the start, Jason felt innovation was something they struggled with in the beginning. Eventually they realised that being courageous enough to be different and compete on a completely different level with other agencies was key to wowing their clients, who had already recognised and respected their difference right from the beginning.
They began to re-energise this advantage. All along they had worked differently, and created differently. That value had to be rekindled and nurtured, promoting their distinction and diversity. After they got that right, they had to develop their own advertising strategy. As Jason said with some chagrin: ‘HaveYouHeard had become the most exciting agency that no one had heard of.’ This wasn’t helpful when going up against big name brands.
Learning not to put profits before people was another hard lesson. There is immediately loss in trust, motivation and effort from staff once they feel that money is more important than their input. Your employees are the heart of your business and keeping their heart in your business is key to moving a small enterprise forward with impetus.
Hiring the right people was another learning curve. Likewise working with clients who were a good fit with the agency. In other words, don’t be so hungry to grow that you say ‘yes’ to everyone. Not all business is good business. Choose your staff as much as they choose you, and likewise choose your clients as much as they choose you. Clients should allow you to: render innovative and powerful work; develop a good working relationship and interaction; and charge fair returns for work undertaken. The philosophy: take time to instil confidence and growth through good relationship-building.
Mbali Luvuno – Mbali’s Fast Food
Mbali chose to situate her takeaway business near a taxi rank in Vosloorus, close to Johannesburg. Early every morning, her daughter would help her with baking scones, cakes, and whipping up tasty beef and chicken stews. Initially Mbali struggled because she had no idea how to price her products, and she nearly gave up. But after she attended a business skills training programme run by a United Nations Women’s empowerment programme, she gained confidence and was able to establish her business more astutely and securely.
She received training in record-keeping, managing income and expenditure, marketing and competition. Indeed, Mbali is lucky to be one of nearly 24,000 small business owners in South Africa who have benefitted from training through the joint programme. She now dreams of creating a second shop in a larger taxi stand area, and handing over her first business to her daughter. The philosophy: don’t assume you know everything, always find a way to improve your knowledge about business and apply it with intention and enthusiasm.